“I suppose my pastor would say it’s akin to gambling, although I didn’t view it that way back then.”
I recall this first happening in fourth grade at Reese Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas. It has since been repeated thousands of times.
Mrs. Hagan instructed our class that if we came to a test question we didn’t know the answer to, it was better to “guess” and take a chance, than leave things blank. That hit home with me because I was leaving more blanks than anything else.
On our next quiz I did quite well. I don’t remember the amount of questions guessed, but I was correct on a majority of them. I got an A on that paper and verbal accolades going along with such. The grade wasn’t as significant as discovering that guessing was exciting, and in a strange way, made learning fun. It was much like a television game show without the expensive prizes.
I tried to completely guess the next couple of tests without studying and failed miserably. I wasn’t the only kid picking up this poor educational habit. After several weeks, students were re-instructed by Mrs. Hagan to leave things blank if they didn’t know the answer. At this point, I couldn’t return to my old ways as I was hooked. Several boys in my class had the same addiction. I suppose my pastor would say it’s akin to gambling, although I didn’t view it that way back then.
Throughout life I’ve used guessing in many areas. If I didn’t know the direction to a specific location, I guessed on which road to take. Sometimes I was right yet the majority of time I was wrong. I didn’t have a problem with being lost, because I saw things along the way that I’d never come across otherwise. Unfortunately, GPS took care of that problem if you can call it that.
I’ve guessed on driving test questions, employment applications, financial questionnaires, which line to get in at the drive-thru pharmacy, what grocery store checker was quickest, which wrench or socket to use, how old a person is, and the list goes on and on.
I don’t guess as much as I once did. These days I pray about what to do when an important decision is needed. Prayer isn’t used in areas unimportant. On those occasions, I turn to Honest Abe Lincoln to make my decision.
Do I want a Hobo omelet for breakfast or blueberry pancakes? Abe not only takes care of that decision, he becomes part of the tip.
A friend told me that some California schools are thinking about using two-answer multiple choice tests, instead of three and four. Students will only have a choice between A or B. I suppose this is to give underachievers like me a better chance on guessing the correct answer.
Had that been the norm in 1963, I’d be asking my teacher come test day,
“Mrs. Hagan, do you have an extra pencil and a penny?”
“No crystal ball nor financial expert was needed by us to see that Lake Havasu City property would someday spiral upwards in value.”
I’ve been asked numerous times,
“What brought you and Joleen to Lake Havasu City from Alaska?”
I’ll try to cram this lengthy story into a nutshell. My brother, Jim, was an air traffic controller stationed at Blythe, California in 1979. He invited us to visit him the following summer and we happily obliged. Our son, Gunnar, was two-years-old at this time.
After a day of taking in all there was to see, in and around the desert community of Blythe, Jim asked if we’d like to walk across the London Bridge. Joleen and I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. He told us a story of chainsaw and outboard motor magnate, Robert McCulloch Sr., purchasing the famous bridge from the City of London, moving it thousands of miles to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where the disassembled and numbered blocks of granite were then reassembled. When my brother told this tale it sounded more like myth than fact.
The drive from Blythe took us about an hour. We were impressed with not only the antique bridge, but cleanliness of the city as well. It helped that the outboard boat championship was going on that weekend along with a car show. Joleen and I decided at that point that Lake Havasu City was where we’d someday have a winter home.
After our tour with Jim was over, Joleen, Gunnar, and I headed back to Havasu from Blythe and purchased a residential lot, with the help of Realtor Diane Carlson. Our first piece of property was ironically on Injo Drive. “Jo” is my wife’s nickname. Friends and family laughed at our decision saying it was no place they’d want to live, and they doubted the idea was a smart one.
Our investment property was quite easy to get into. An older couple purchased the land from Robert McCulloch Jr’s. – Holly Development Corporation in 1972. In 1980, they no longer had plans to build on it. We paid $9,000.00 with ten percent down, amortized over 30-years. The monthly payment was basically nothing. That following year, Joleen and I bought an adjoining lot for almost the same price.
Starting a partnership with Joleen’s brother, Calvin Freeman, we accumulated more inexpensive lots through the help of Realtor – Randy Randall. We weren’t high rollers like so many rich investors from California are. Calvin, Joleen, and I were working-stiffs, investing what spare money we could scrape together for down payments. No crystal ball nor financial expert was needed by us to see that Lake Havasu City property would someday spiral upwards in value.
Several more years went by before the old police station on London Bridge Road was vacated for a newer structure. We purchased it and quickly went to work with the assistance of, Ron Claspill, in removing all heavy steel jail bars and doors. In three-short-months we turned the old block building into a triple-unit commercial rental. Over time, our low-budget investment group called AZAKS LTD. accumulated 200 consecutive feet of commercial frontage on London Bridge Road alone. AZAKS stands for: Arizona – Alaska – Kansas.
When retirement rolled around it was time to unload all holdings. Realtor’s, Suzannah Ballard and Richard Pagliero, took care of that for us. The money garnered from such went into a house project for Joleen and me, while Calvin used his funds to buy a home and acreage in Kansas. There was nothing financially complicated about what we did. Most of all, Rich Dad Poor Dad author, Robert Kiyosaki, wasn’t needed to instruct us on how to go invest our money. “It was so simple that a caveman could do it!”
I’ve told my children, friends, and strangers, that they should consider doing the same. My parents were the ones advising us to go this direction, and had they not done so, Joleen and I wouldn’t be spending winters in warm Lake Havasu City. Most likely, I’d still be shoveling snow, bad hips and all, in Alaska.
If I had another 40-years, I’d do the same type no brainer investment in Yucca, Arizona. Ten-years ago, I predicted property there would double, and that a truck stop would be built, with both visions now coming true. I have a gut feeling that something even bigger will happen in that area before long. People I know will laugh at this idea as well, yet I won’t be around to see them wrong this time.
“It was 1991, when a group of marijuana connoisseurs came up with a companion event to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. They called their bizarro plan, “IDITATOK.”
All good things must come to an end they say. An ongoing joke for close to 30-years has finally reached that plateau.
My family has been fans of Anchorage radio and television celebrity, Marcus Lewis, since he first went on the air in Anchorage. Our son, Gunnar, attended the same daycare on Baxter Drive as Marcus’s daughter, Heather. This was around 1979. That’s where I first met Mr. Lewis. He was driving a new, shiny-black Camaro at the time.
Each morning, we’d tune our radio in to the, “Marcus in the Morning Show.” I can’t tell you how many years we listened. I believe my kids were some of the first to call Marcus when it snowed less than an inch, asking, “Is there school today?” Several hundred other children and adults soon followed suit.
In the early 1980’s, I won a free personal pizza at Pizza Hut on Muldoon Road through a KFQD radio contest. Marcus joined a group of us for lunch that day. He was a real hoot, and I observed that the man’s sense of humor was over the top. I won numerous other items from his show, with the best being a glass vial of Mount Saint Helen volcanic ash. I still have it, believing by the year 2525 it’ll be worth a fortune on eBay.
Coming in second were tickets to a Tommy Tutone concert. Of course, Tommy Tutone was a one hit wonder, with “Jenny” being their #1 money maker. Jennie’s phone number, 8675309, has never left my mind.
It was 1991, when a group of marijuana connoisseurs came up with a companion event to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. They named their bizarro gettogether, “IDITATOK.” Marcus mentioned it on his show, saying that the idea was hilarious.
I dialed KFQD that morning, claiming to be “Rocky” from Talkeetna, desperately needing information on time and place. Marcus was quick-witted in his response, “I’ll have the proper authorities call you with that information!”
Each year around February, “Rocky” made it a point to call and ask Marcus the same IDITATOK question. Most every occasion, Marcus and his co-host, April, had this imposter on the air. My wife and kids covered their mouths to keep from laughing outloud and being heard.
Around 1992, I began working with a fellow named, Kurt Rogers. Not only did Kurt and I work together, we became good comrades. His sense of humor was top notch like Marcus, but on a dryer level. One day at break, Kurt told me that Marcus Lewis and his wife were friends of theirs. Kurt said that he often did remodeling work on the Lewis’ home.
When I told Kurt what I’d been up to, he busted a gut. Informing him that I was going to have to stop calling because of caller I.D., my friend insisted that I needed to keep the joke going as long as possible. We put our thinkingcaps on coming up with a plan. Kurt’s suggestion was that I send Marcus cards and letters each year, and write messages on them like acrazy person. For me, that made things simple.
Marcus has received a card or letter from “Rocky” for close to 30-years, describing what the IDITATOK veteran from Talkeetna had been up to. Family and friends living in various parts of the country helped out in this scheme, by mailing pre-written cards or letters from their home state.
In this correspondence, “Rocky” has been in and out of the pokey more than once, entered the radio business and was fired multiple occasions, sold used cars, dealt in “herbs”, was a professional gambler, musician, struggling actor, juggler, mime, Amway salesman, and a host of other things I no longer remember.
I always kept Kurt up to speed on the latest. Far as I know my pal never told anyone including his wife, Sharon. Sadly, Kurt passed away a few years ago. I’ve kept the joke going in memory of him, but time’s ripe for it to take a bow. I believe Kurt Rogers would say, “A joke well done!”
Hopefully, Marcus took things in good humor, as this is the first time I’ve disclosed such. I thank him for the many smiles he put on not only my face, but thousands of other listeners as well!
“Clinking spoons and forks hitting cheap porcelain plates could be heard throughout the room.”
My 50th East High School reunion is coming up next year, and I was reflecting back on a graduation party I attended at Eklutna Lake Campground on Thursday night, May 25, 1972. For those wondering, East High School is in Anchorage, Alaska.
I was at this party with best friend Jeff Thimsen in my purple 1954 Chevrolet “Highboy” Hot Rod. It was drizzling rain and very cold that evening, with newspaper archives showing 39 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, so it would’ve been below freezing when the sun went down. A group of maybe five graduates was parked close to us in a VW van. I remember most of their names yet shall keep them nameless.
A popular and attractive blonde walked over to our car asking if we had any papers. Being quite naïve, neither Jeff nor I had a clue what she meant. Thinking the gal might be contemplating starting a campfire, I told her I had some newspapers under my car seat. With puzzled look and Cheshire cat grin she replied,
The pretty partygoer quickly scampered back to her vehicle, empty handed.
Jeff and I hung around for maybe an hour trying to figure out why the party hadn’t started. We were expecting a barbecue. Feeling hungry and finding no hot dogs, hamburgers, or Cokes, the two of us hightailed it to Leroy’s Pancake House. There we joined other stray cats from East.
I vaguely remember it being an all guy endeavor. The atmosphere was lively yet somber. Clinking spoons and forks hitting cheap porcelain plates could be heard throughout the room. Trying to liven up my own dampened spirits I splurged and ordered ‘Pigs in a Blanket’. The breakfast fare was a favorite at Leroy’s and still is. After eating, a group of us decided to head to Flapjack Jim’s down the street for dessert.
Somewhere around 2 a.m. after consuming ample slices of apple pie alamode, our basically mundane graduation party ended without fanfare under inclement weather. We were bloated from excess sweets and also very tired from doing nothing. No pomp and circumstance played as we exited the joint, and the waitress didn’t even say congratulations. To her it was just another night at the greasy spoon diner. For us, we hadn’t a clue what the future had in store.
By the end of summer I’d wised up considerably where street smarts are concerned. I figured out by then what papers my former classmate was referring to. She must’ve been talking about TP. Evidently the girl was too embarrassed to spell things out.
I’m sure those crumpled-newspapers under my driver’s seat would’ve worked just fine. Why she didn’t accept them will always remain a mystery?
“For a brief second I thought about walking over to help, quickly deciding that allowing the show to go on was a much wiser decision.”
Thirty years ago, Professor Michael Burwell, told our creative writing class should we ever develop “writer’s block,” simply jot down things that happened in our life the day before. He said that would help get the creative juices flowing. Writer’s block happens when a writer is unable to think of anything to compose. Fortunately, I never had this problem until the other morning. Deciding to give Professor Burwell’s suggestion a whirl, the following is what occurred in my life on Friday:
Waking up at seven, I had the urge for a fresh Bavarian cream donut and iced coffee. A discounted box of glazed donuts I’d purchased one week earlier at Wal-Mart was empty. I knew I should’ve bought two boxes.
Bashas’ has a donut special on Friday where you get 18 for the price of a dozen. I didn’t need 18 donuts yet overweight people in front of me did. Who am I to be talking.
I wanted to cut line and stick my arm in real quick like, grabbing a couple of pastries like another fellow did, yet out of courtesy I patiently waited my turn. This was most difficult because the lady in front of me was having a difficult time making her selection. She’d brought along two grandchildren and they weren’t sure what they wanted either.
Finally making it to the front of the line, I pried the last two chocolate Bavarian creams from a green plastic tray. One donut had someone’s thump print on it, but at this point I didn’t care. My wife, having bad eyes, probably wouldn’t notice.
On the way to McDonald’s for coffee, going the speed limit and holding up traffic, I slowly rolled to the stoplight at Mulberry & 95. A young female driving a black BMW pulled up alongside my car, showing me her middle finger. I was flattered by the extremely brazen offer, yet being a happily married man, shook my head and politely declined.
A few minutes later, sitting at the drive-thru intercom at McDonald’s, an employee asked if I’d be using my mobile AP? “Say what….. my C PAP?” Those fast-food speakers can be extremely hard for us older folks to understand. Actually, I was messing with this person because they tossed out the same question each morning. By this time, you’d think they’d remember I didn’t own an AP.
Driving back home, I picked up my wife and our little dog, taking them to Rotary Beach. We go there quite often to drink coffee, chat, and watch all the different variety of birds. No, we didn’t let “Simon” do his business on the grass like others.
As Joleen fed several obese pigeons panhandling outside her car window, I noticed two middle-age gals wearing what I assume were their daughter’s much-too-small bathing suits. They struggled while trying to place a large kayak on top of a Toyota automobile.
For a brief second I thought about walking over to help, quickly deciding that allowing the show to go on was a much wiser decision. There was another senior couple in a red truck observing the same, and I’m sure they wouldn’t have appreciated me helping bring this act to a sudden end.
Back at the house, I thought of all the chores that needed done, then took a nap. Dr. Oz says that older folks should take regular naps to lengthen their lives. If that’s true, with all the naps I take, my carcass will be around for another 50-years.
Not much else happened on Friday worthy of mention, other than I thought for the first time, Sheriff Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke might give “Miss Kitty” a kiss she’s been craving for 635 episodes. Evidently, the man’s a bit frigid because he didn’t follow through.
I ate a Lean Cuisine that evening, read a Hot Rod magazine, then it was lights out by ten, knowing that come Saturday morning, I’d be doing much the same all over again.
“The one thing I could’ve offered Mary besides having my own wheels, was a decent meal.”
As a fledgling sophomore at East High School, I signed up for an aviation science class taught by Mr. Herbert Niemoth. Bob Malone was in my class along with a girl named Mary. I had a crush on her from day one. Mary was a senior and the smartest person around, besides being beautiful.
I told my friend, Rod Sanborn, that I was thinking of asking Mary out. He knew her well because Rod was also in the twelfth grade. My pal laughed, telling me that Mary’s parents were both doctors. That’s the first time I’d heard such.
“Do you really think she’d go out with you?“, he teased.
Before I could answer Rod reminded me that I lived in just a trailer and drove “Comet Cleanser.” That’s the name friends labeled my powder-blue 1961 Mercury Comet. I’d just recently purchased the 2-door Merc from my brother.
I gave up the plan immediately after being slapped with my pal’s uncalled for advice. Mary and Bob tied for high grade in Niemoth’s aviation class that semester, with me coming in third. I was planning on using this class to go for my private pilot’s license like my brother, yet finding out I had vertigo nullified that idea as well.
I had zero time for girls during high school anyway. Working for dad at the gas station after school used up the clock. The one thing I could’ve offered Mary besides my own wheels, was a decent meal. I’d put quite a stash of cash away by 10th grade.
I still think back to what Rod told me. The folks and I didn’t reside in just an ordinary trailer at this point, we’d moved on up to a double wide. Would that have made any difference? I’ll never know.
excerpt from my new book: ORDINARY AVERAGE GUY – Uncensored Memoirs of a Trailer Park Refugee – copyright 2021
“Mom said she had several glass figurines destroyed after they committed suicide by diving off a high shelf.”
I’ve been working on a book about my life for several years. It’s close to being finished. When I told a friend he remarked,
“You’ll be lucky to sell 100!”
Of course the man was trying to be sarcastic and funny all in one. I took it in stride. Regardless, I intend to prove him wrong. My goal is 101.
This conversation all came about when I mentioned my family first coming to Lake Havasu City in 1981. He stepped up to the imaginary microphone proclaiming that he did the same in 1977, as if it were a contest on who got here first.
“Wow!”, I said, not mentioning that me, my brother, and parents first headed out this direction in 1956. Lake Havasu City developer Robert McCulloch had yet to even dream about his oasis in the desert. My friend was not even born when we rolled past the Site 6 turnoff, so I win.
Because I’m feeling lazy this morning, I’ll simply copy and paste a section out of my manuscript that talks about such.
“My family left Alabama in 1956 for California. Dad pulled a 30-foot house trailer down Route 66 for most of the trip with his 1949 Mercury. Several photos show this. It’s amazing to me that this low-power vehicle made the trip, especially through the heat of Arizona. Photographs show our black automobile loaded to the gills on roof and trunk with personal belongings.
Dad said somewhere near Holbrook my brother and I became deathly ill. It was 120 degrees outside and our car had no air-conditioner. A man at a gas station sold us blocks of ice and a tin baking pan. My brother and I took turns hovering over them until we hit cooler weather. That ice probably saved our lives.”
Dad’s new assignment was George Air Force Base in Victorville, California. General Chuck Yeager was 413th Fighter Group Wing Commander at this time. Photographs show us on Armed Forces Day ogling over glistening planes and helicopters. One black & white picture is identified as General Yeager’s F-100 Super Sabre fighter that he called, “City of Barstow.” The sleek craft was named for nearby Barstow, California.
Images show this jet with a mob of people milling around it. He was a celebrated individual up until his death. Chuck Yeager wrote a book about his exploits which I have a signed copy. It is dedicated to “Roy” with no last name. General Yeager’s wife and children placed their John Henry’s on it as well which is significant. I believe they gave it to Roy Rogers who was a family friend. Roy isn’t around much these days or I’d ask him.
Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans lived in the Victorville area along with Chuck and Glennis Yeager. Roy and Chuck were avid hunters and gun aficionados. They once competed as team members in a grouse hunting competition. Both were exceptional shots.
General Yeager and I share four traits. We were born, have a love of fast cars, respect the second amendment, and his kids were military brats like me. Other than that we’re world’s apart.
General Chuck Yeager is up there where my childhood idols are concerned. His life was as adventurous as they come. Unfortunately, after his spouse of 45 years, Glennis, passed away, General Yeager incurred a total family meltdown with his four children. That often happens when a new and much younger wife enters the picture. A lawsuit was eventually filed by Yeager against one of his daughters, accusing her of mishandling his estate.
Chuck Yeager passed away on December 7, 2020. Ironically, that’s the same month and day Pearl Harbor was attacked.
MOVING ON UP
For reasons that I don’t remember, dad sold our trailer after only a short time of living in it. We moved into the top floor of the Beaman Apartments on the outskirts of Victorville. Amazingly, that structure is still there. Jim told me that he remembers sun-bleached cow skulls in the desert not far from the place. I’m surprised he didn’t drag one home. Dad eventually purchased a slightly bigger mobile home than our old one. I guess my folks were tired of climbing stairs. We relocated to a place called, Pott Trailer Park. Such a catchy name!
Sonic booms from jet aircraft breaking the sound barrier were an everyday occurrence. They’d rattle dishes and break windows. Mom said she had several glass figurines destroyed after they committed suicide by diving off a high shelf. The explosions appeared without warning, often times late at night. After a while we got used to them. Evidently the figurines didn’t. Today, some folks would call sonic booms the sound of freedom. I’m one of them.
I barely recall dad being in a serious accident in a friend’s 1957 Corvette. This happened on Route 66 before the popular television series, Route 66 ever came out. I have photos of the mangled car. A friend told me these images would now be collector items for Corvette enthusiasts. I’ve shared them online but the originals will always remain with family. I often wonder if the ‘vette was fixed back then, and if so, who owns it now?
Dad miraculously survived this crash by being flung out of the vehicle into a pile of sand. His right leg was severely mangled. Doctors inserted a stainless-steel metal rod into one bone to strengthen it. He walked with a limp the rest of his life. Only close friends could get away calling him, “Chester.” In later years, the extreme cold of living in Alaska made his pain excruciating. I recall dad using Stanback powder to help relieve it.
The thing I remember most about living in California was the time our family visited Disney Land. This was right before dad’s accident. Disneyland first opened in 1954. Things seemed huge in my mind back then, especially the castle. When Joleen and I took our kids in 1984, those mental images suddenly vanished. The castle had mysteriously shrunk to the size of a Piggly Wiggly. For those not recognizing this unusual name, it’s a grocery store chain down south. My kids weren’t disappointed in Disneyland, but I was.
Riding the Teacups was my favorite. I say that because of a huge smile I have on my face in a photograph. Jim went for the more exciting rides which I no longer remember names to. There were some replica antique cars on a track moving slower than Grandma Moses. Those are my mom’s exact words. A photo shows us sitting in one with Jim turning the steering wheel on a curve. My father said my brother actually thought he was controlling the thing.
We also visited Knott’s Berry Farm and Calico Ghost Town while living in Victorville. I believe that’s where mom started buying Knott’s Berry Farm blackberry jelly. She never purchased any other brand. In one of the pictures at Calico, Jim and I are riding a train with Disneyland hats on. An actor hired to be a train outlaw demanded that we give our souvenirs to him. Jim obliged, but I started crying. Mom said the guy tried to calm me by returning Jim’s hat. Evidently it made things worse. He eventually gave us soda’s which did the trick. This train robber might’ve been the fellow getting me hooked on pop. I have to blame it on someone.
I don’t recall much else about Victorville other than it getting blazing hot during summer. Jim and I had a babysitter because of mom having to work. This lady took care of several more military kids besides us. On some days she’d take us outside to sit under a large tree. The woman used a garden hose in an effort to cool our bodies down which helped. Her little trailer had a contraption on the roof called a “swamp cooler.” Evidently it didn’t work because I remember being miserable at times waiting for mom to pick us up. She couldn’t get there fast enough.
As I mentioned earlier, television cowboy stars, Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans lived outside Victorville on a ranch. Jim and I watched their television show religiously each Saturday. Mom said someone told her Dale Evans shopped at a local grocery store on occasion, and that the celebrity generally had a basket full. Mom had a logical explanation for that,
“Those people have to eat too!
The only time I saw Roy was during a parade, and I was told that much by my brother. I don’t remember any parades other than one at Christmas when Santa tossed candy to me. Perhaps this was the same event? Jim claims I was there and I believe him. Roy Rogers was evidently the grand marshal because he was leading things. Basically, the only other thing I remember about parades besides Santa Claus, were the piles of poop that horses left behind. Why the marching bands always end up walking behind livestock puzzles me to this day?
I doubt 9 out of 10 people reading my book will even know who Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are. To Jim and I, they were our childhood heroes back in the day. Unfortunately, this couple faded off into the sunset like so many western stars did. Happy trails to them!
When we left California in 1958, dad once again towed a mobile home. This time it was behind a snazzy 1957 Galaxie 500. Our new car was also black and hard to keep cool like the Merc. One of my father’s favorite movies back then was Thunder Road starring Robert Mitchum. Although the movie didn’t come out until 1958, I believe that sealed the old man’s passion for black Ford automobiles. In this movie, Lucas Doolin (Robert Mitchum) transported moonshine in his trunk, delivering it to select bars and taverns across the south. The police were always chasing him. My father didn’t go that far, although illegal whiskey did enter our lives soon after…”
Excerpt from: ORDINARY AVERAGE GUY – uncensored memoirs of a trailer park refugee.
“All went well until intermission. At this point, some young people took it upon themselves to light their own fireworks. Our windows were down and a bottle rocket went zipping through just missing mom’s head. It sailed out the passenger window striking another car.”
I was initially going to write this piece solely about Sel-Mont Drive-In Theatre in Selma, Alabama. Dad was stationed at Craig Air Force Base on the outskirts of town. Drive-in theaters were a cheap form of entertainment for military families back then. I have enough material on Sel-Mont, including a complete history of its opening and closing to work with.
With memories of two other drive-in theaters my family visited over the years, and stories to go with, it seems appropriate to include everything in one composition. Theater history on its own would undoubtedly be boring to many people.
Selma, Alabama 1958 – 1963 Craig Air Force Base
The first movie I recall watching at Sel-Mont Drive-In Theatre was Bambi. This was the original 1942 version where Bambi’s mother is killed by a hunter. It left mental scars on me, including nightmares for thousands of other kids. The ending was eventually revised to be less traumatic. Even so, I hear that children and adults still cry after viewing it.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, and Vera Miles was released in 1962. We watched that movie at Sel-Mont. This might’ve been the time dad was in a hurry to leave at the end of the show. He wanted to beat the rush.
My father drove off with a movie speaker still attached to his window. There was such an onslaught of cars rolling out of the place, that my dad heaved speaker and wires to the asphalt like a hot potato. Much akin to the ending of Bambi, it’s a sight that never left my mind.
Often we’d stop at Jet Drive-In before a movie and pick up their burger special. There was a sign out front advertising 10 burgers for a specific price. I no longer recall the exact amount, but my brother Jim believes it was $1.00. That seems a bit unbelievable. Mom would make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at times. We had our own popcorn. She always had a cooler for soda. My brother, Jim, said I spent a good portion of my time during a movie, swinging at the drive-in playground.
During New Years or Fourth of July, Sel-Mont had an early movie and then a fireworks display. One year the whole family went and I do not recall any problems. My brother echoes the same. The following year was a bit different.
Dad was sent to Korea for a one-year tour, leaving mom with me and my brother. I believe it was fourth of July, but at this point can’t be exactly sure? She decided we’d go to a movie and catch their firework’s extravaganza.
All went well until intermission. At this point, some young people took it upon themselves to light their own fireworks. Our windows were down and a bottle rocket went zipping through just missing mom’s head. It sailed out the passenger window striking another car.
With windows hastily rolled up, rockets began hitting our Ford like crazy. It was intentional. Within seconds mother decided it was time to go. We never saw the big fireworks display nor completed the second half of our movie. The next morning, Jim found burnt paint on the car door from direct hits. Mom told me much later in life, that people were heavily drinking that night. She was scared to death.
Lubbock, Texas 1963 – 1967 Reese Air Force Base
After moving to Lubbock, Texas in 1963, the Sundown Drive-In on Brownfield Highway replaced Sel-Mont where cheap Friday night entertainment was concerned. Sundown was originally called 5 Point Drive-In. I found an old 1947 ad for their grand opening. Of all things, they advertised a bottle warming service for babies.
I don’t recall any spectacular events happening at Sundown like Sel-Mont. We came late one evening, finding there were only few parking spots left. Dad picked a vacant one and quickly discovered our speaker wasn’t working. We moved to the other side and all was good.
Throughout the first movie, latecomers would roll up to the spot we’d vacated, and then drive away. This went on the whole first show. Watching people’s faces and hearing some of what they had to say became more entertaining than the film. I don’t believe my father made that mistake again.
The old man ran out of gas late one evening after a movie ended. The car had just enough speed to wheel into a closed service station. I learned a trick that night which came in handy years later. Dad took empty pop bottles, and using outstretched pump hoses, filled the containers with what was left inside. Each hose contained a small amount of residual fuel. We ended up with enough gas to make it to another station.
Anchorage, Alaska 1967 – Elmendorf Air Force Base
After moving to Anchorage, Alaska in 1967, I figured my drive-in days were over. Lo and behold, the Sundowner Drive-In Theater was a popular haunt for locals, especially teenagers from East, West, and Dimond.
An unusual part of this drive-in was that each parking spot had an electric heater unlike Sel-Mont and Sundown. The heater fans were noisy and often times put out fumes smelling like burnt rubber. I believe mischievous teens placed rubber bands inside know what the outcome would be.
On one drizzly cold night, dad reached for a heater and was shocked. The water soaked unit had a short in it. After talking with a theater employee, my father found out this wasn’t unusual at Sundowner.
“You best touch them gently to see!“, the fellow advised dad. On one of our next visits it happened again.
This go-around, dad was shocked and lit at the same time. I’m talking enraged. Instead of moving our car to another spot, he deliberately ripped the heater off its mount and tossed it to the ground. I’m sure he was shocked time and time again during his rage.
Score one speaker plus one heater for the old man. All he needed for a triple was to back over a speaker pole. That happened quite often at Sundowner. Poles were bent every which direction. Thankfully dad never hit one.
During my junior high and high school years I attended movies at Sundowner more than ever. This was the first time I saw people popping out of trunks after parking. Generally it was teens trying to avoid paying . On one instance a car in front wasn’t let through. An employee wanted the vehicle trunk opened. Reluctantly, the driver did so and three high-school age students crawled out. They were all asked to leave.
The last movie I remember watching at Sundowner was actually not intended to be one movie, but three Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns played back to back. Fistful of Dollars, The Man with no Name, and, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The reason I remember this, is because Eastwood only starred in three such Italian made movies.
I believe this might’ve been in April when it was still chilly at night. Jim, Jeff, and I took my 1954 Chevrolet. That was a big mistake because the vintage-car-heater barely put out at idle.
When the first movie began playing there were perhaps 50-cars total. We noticed right away that the actor’s words did not go with their lips. This made for an agonizing 90-minutes. We’d actually came that night to see, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Of course, theater management made sure that was the last movie to be shown.
When the second movie started, Sundowner’s parking lot was down to perhaps 15-cars and trucks. A few of them had steamed up windows. Most likely these folks hadn’t come for the movies, because no effort was made to clean glass.
I had a police spotlight on the driver’s side of my car. A friend helped me install a powerful aircraft-landing-lightbulb inside the housing. This was hooked to a 12-volt battery along with my 8-track tape player. The old Chevy was 6-volt at this time. Shining it on a couple of the fogged up cars got no response. A theater employee walked over asking us to knock it off.
Our little electric heater could barely keep up. The thick curly cord for this device poked through a window. Door glass could not be rolled up tight enough to keep the cold out. We tried stuffing napkins in the crack to no avail.
When our windows became fogged from nothing more than breathing, Jeff said it was time to go. He joked that perhaps someone we knew might see my distinctive car, and remember it as being full of guys that night.
“This could ruin our reputation!”, he said.
I knew what he meant. Years previous, we were sitting in Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on C Street with another friend, Tim Amundsen. Tim got up to use the restroom leaving Jeff and I on the same side of the table. Two girls started looking and smirking so Jeff quickly moved to the other side.
It’s fitting that the last outdoor movie I watched was at the Sundowner. The theater name seems appropriate. Sundowner permanently closed a few years after the Clint Eastwood series. I believe it was in 1979 or 1980. For a while after closing they used the grounds for special events. The complex was finally bulldozed.
It’s rare these days that I’ll attend a movie. Hearing the F-Bomb dropped every 10-seconds by an actor or actress doesn’t turn my crank.
A friend recently remarked after reading where someone was reopening an old drive-in in California,
“Perhaps some day these old theaters will make a comeback. Withadvances in speaker technology, it’d be a totally different experience.”
Jerry was right about speaker technology. The clarity of old vs new speakers would be 100 times better. Will a comeback ever come to pass?
I wouldn’t bet on it, at least not in Anchorage, Alaska!
“We laughed all the way to Astoria, knowing that we’d just made history in McCleary, as being the two biggest idiots to ever hit town.”
Most of the time when I take pictures my camera date stamp is turned off. Thankfully, several photos my wife stumbled across have March 23, 1997 printed in the lower right corner. If this date wasn’t recorded, I wouldn’t have remembered specifics to this story.
March 22 and March 23, 1997 were two of those days when a person should’ve been arrested for having too much fun. I told my friend some 24-years ago, that somewhere in the future I’d write this article for posterity sake. He ordered me to make sure he was retired when I did so. The time’s now ripe before all trip memories turn to fog.
Dee Linton and I arrived in Seattle on Friday, March 21, 1997. We were there to attend a five-day automotive technology seminar starting on Monday. Checking in early Saturday morning with the seminar receptionist, we had the rest of that day free along with Sunday to sight see.
Having a rental car with unlimited mileage, sky was the limit as to where we could go. Stopping at a local Starbucks before leaving town, Dee snapped a couple of photos of me posing with a sign made out of cardboard.
Leaving Seattle an hour later, our ultimate destination was Astoria, Oregon, normally a four-hour trip. We turned it into 13, having to snooze in the car Saturday night. Someone told Dee there were beautiful beaches close to Astoria. I brought swim trunks just in case we had time for a swim.
The scenery was spectacular. Anchorage was dingy-brown from melting snow when we departed. Lush green trees and bushes captivated our eyes all along the route. We eventually came to a town called McCleary, Washington early Sunday morning. A large sign advertised it as being home of the Bear Festival. Dee had me stand in front of the weathered boards holding out my hand.
Stopping at a small convenience store, two teenage girls asked if they could help us. The youngsters appeared to be sisters.
“We’re here for the McCleary Bear Festival.”, Dee said with straight face. “Wecame down from Alaska.”
The girls started laughing but then quickly stopped, believing at this point my pal was dead serious.
“The Bear Festivalisn’t until July!”, one of them apologetically replied.
Both Dee and I acted stunned.
“You’re not serious?”, I gasped.
About this time an older fellow stepped out from behind a food counter. He’d evidently been listening, and wanted to see what stupid looked like. Undoubtedly it was their father.
Dee looked at the man and asked in serious tone, “Is there anything else in town worth seeing?”
“There’s our county museum.”, the gentleman replied. “But it’s closed today.”
“I guess we’ll have to come back in July!”, I remarked, paying for drinks and snacks. I needed out of there pronto or I’d bust a gut.
“It’ll be worth it!”, one gal added as we exited the place. All three people stared out a front store window as we drove off.
We laughed all the way to Astoria, Oregon, knowing that we’d just made history in McCleary, as being the two biggest idiots to ever hit town.
Our first stop in the city was a McDonald’s restaurant. The place was jammed with customers. Walking up to the counter and glancing at his watch, Dee informed the young clerk,
“We’re from corporate. Doing a food turnaround inspection!”
Word traveled fast. Before long, employees were bumping into each other trying to hurry. I had to bite my cheeks to keep from laughing.
The manager quickly came out of her office asking Dee what he needed.
“An Egg McMuffin and coffee please! What do you want Mike?”
I could see the woman didn’t think our stunt was funny, yet she didn’t say anything, most likely still not totally sure that we weren’t from corporate.
Dee and I grabbed our food and scurried out. Employees and customers watched as we exited. Evidently word leaked out to them that professional pranksters were in their midst. I found it hard to eat my sandwich while laughing at the same time.
Our stop at a beach near Astoria was relatively uneventful. For whatever reason no one was there but us. Slight rain was in the air, so perhaps that kept the crowds away? A little precipitation didn’t bother us.
I found the water teeth-chattering cold. A jacket was needed and even that didn’t help. My legs and feet quickly went numb. It wasn’t until time to dry off that I discovered no towels had been packed. My shirt had to suffice. By then, Mr. Hypothermia was knocking at the door.
Our car heater quickly righted the situation. A cup of steaming coffee was just down the road. All was now good in Astoria.
Arriving back in Seattle late Sunday evening, Dee and I found a restaurant that served steaks. Being on the road for nearly 36-hours had wiped us out. Our eyes were bloodshot from little sleep. We were famished as well.
The next five days were spent hitting the books and listening to many guest speakers. I came back to Anchorage not only educated, but having memories that most likely will never be topped.
Where having fun with a friend is concerned, this trip was a barrel of hoots!
Note: Some day I hope to attend the McCleary Bear Festival. It’s on my bucket list. The country around that part of Washington is beautiful!
“The other day I let someone get under my skin which is rare.”
I’ve had numerous people over the years disagree with my line of thinking. It’s human nature and nothing wrong with it.
Whenever I disagreed with a friend, I’d tell them we’ll have to agree to disagree and leave it at that. There was never any problem.
Social media came along and all that changed. In the beginning, I didn’t mind putting all beliefs on the clothes line. After getting my head bit off by perfect strangers I began not being so open. This was a new experience.
There was no agreeing to disagree with these people. You either had to change your point of view, or out came their machete.
I had a good friend for many years. He was a co-worker. We never discussed politics as far as I remember. I could’ve cared less what side of the coin he was own. I’ve been a conservative Republican from the beginning of time. I’ve never hidden such.
On Facebook, whenever you like something for whatever reason it sometimes shares your like with others. I didn’t know this at the beginning.
On occasion this guy would pop up out of nowhere scolding me for liking things that he didn’t like. I laughed it off. Eventually he defriended me because I didn’t think exactly like him.
On my blog site I lay it all on the line so to speak. It’s my workplace for sorting out story ideas. I’ll put them on there incomplete and unedited. It’s easier for me to see how things should go after a week of rereading.
I’ve had several people that I don’t know from Adam criticize my mindset regarding political and religious viewpoints. I won’t argue either subject because it’s a waste of my time. Dad and mom taught me that. I have my viewpoints on both and I’m sticking with them.
The other day I let someone get under my skin which is rare. This person didn’t agree with my philosophy regarding public education. There’s an ongoing effort by NEA and progressive activists to change this country’s history via censorship in books. I think it stinks. This individual wanted to do nothing more, than tell me their point of view was the right one.
I wanted to counterattack but didn’t. They eventually went away taking their blog subscription with them. No biggie to me as anyone is welcome to come and go on that site as they please.
Before letting them off the hook I should’ve done one thing .
From the initial reading of their message, I wish I’d come back saying this:
“I hate it that you disagree with my way of thinking but hold on one minute, that switch is somewhere. Found it. Let me flip it.”
Of course they would’ve asked what was I talking about?
“Opinion switch!” I would’ve typed.
“At the flip of a switch I can change my way of thinking to yours. We should begood to go now!”